What Others Said About "The Covered
Richard Koszarski . . .
"This leaves us with "The Covered Wagon," a
film whose value, even at the time of its initial release, was
the subject of some debate. . . Largely thanks to the camerawork
of Karl Brown, who photographed most of Cruze's silent films,
"The Covered Wagon" set a visual standard for Western
epics to come and was the dominant critical and commercial success
of the season. . . Many were impressed by the palpable authenticity
of props and locations in this pageant of American history, but
details of the action were criticized by a knowledgeable few,
which others found the casting of J. Warren Kerrigan and Lois
Wilson in the leads a serious mistake. But the film's very success
in launching a cycle of epic
Westerns soon began to cut into its reputation. . . Although
Kevin Brownlow defends the film for its documentary value, George
Fenin and William K. Everson in "The Western" more accurately
reflect current opinion when they berate it for being 'slow and
pedestrian, often crudely faked,' and 'of negligible creative
value.'" ("An Evening's Entertainment: The Age of the
Silent Feature Picture, 1915-1928," University of California
Lois Wilson . . .
"Conditions were rough, but no worse than some of the
other westerns I was on. I got slight frostbite, we ran out of
supplies and had to live on apples and baked beans for a while,
but I loved every minute of 'The Covered Wagon.' Oh, we were cold,
but I don't think the film would have been as good if we hadn't
been uncomfortable and if we hadn't run into unexpected circumstances.
For instance, snow. Nobody expected snow in the desert at that
time of year. The tents were so laden with snow they were practically
falling on our beds. So, Walter Woods, who was out there with
us, wrote in a snow sequence."
"Do you realize that the covered wagons in that picture
were practically all original Conestogas? Famous Players advertised,
and people came from all over the Middle West with their wagons
and horses. Some of them brought their families. They were paid
two dollars a day each, and two dollars a day for stock, and they
were fed. That was it." (quoted by Kevin Brownlow in "The
Parade's Gone By," University of California Press, 1968)
Lois Wilson . . .
"The girl who had been originally considered for the
heroine in 'The Covered Wagon' told me after the picture was released,
'Lois, I would never have been as good in that part as you were.'
I don't know that I was. A lot of people thought I looked too
well, you know. The critics weren't very nice to me, but I thought
I did a pretty good job.
"It was an amazing picture, and one of the reasons that
it became a great picture was that we went through a lot of the
same hardships that pioneers had gone through." (quoted by
William H. Drew in "Speaking of Silents: First Ladies of
the Screen," The Vestal Press, 1989)
Joe Franklin . . .
"Perhaps the value of 'The Covered Wagon' as a film tends
to be exaggerated a little today, but its importance as one of
the major milestones in the history of the western movie can never
be emphasized too much.
"Today, 'The Covered Wagon,' which was directed by James
Cruze, seems a trifle slow and ordinary, due no doubt to years
of repetition and improvement, but in the early 20's, its effect
was startling. Its deliberate pacing and almost semi-documentary
style created an impression of true authenticity, even though
Cruze himself knew little of the West. . .
"Despite its size, 'The Covered Wagon' does disappoint
in terms of action. Action was just a means to an end for Cruze,
and he never exploited it, or built it, via careful editing the
way Griffith or John Ford did." ("Classics of the Silent
Screen," The Citadel Press, 1959)
Neil Sinyard . . .
"The first big epic western was 'The Covered Wagon' (1923)
directed by James Cruze . . . The cameraman, Karl Brown, who had
previously been an assistant to Griffith, was later to recall
that Cruze had accepted the directing job with considerable lack
of enthusiasm, for his opinion of Westerns at that time was similar
to that of the writer Ben Hecht: 'movies about horses for horses.'
What seemed to change his mind, remarkably enough, was a viewing
of Robert Flaherty's 'Nanook of the North,' which gave Cruze a
new slant on the way to handle the material. As the film evolved,
Cruze found himself approaching 'The Covered Wagon' less from
the point of view of a story than a slice of history, a documentary
of the original trek. Cruze shifted the film's focus away from
the individual towards the group and towards the event itself,
which began to assume epic proportions as an important moment
in the country's history. The film was an enormous success."
("Silent Movies," Brompton Books, Corp., 1990)
Richard Griffith, Arthur Mayer and Eileen Bowser . . .
". . . he (William S. Hart) rejected 'The Covered Wagon'
on the ground that corralling a wagon train in a blind box canyon
in Indian country, or swimming oxen across a river with their
neck yokes on were 'errors that would make a Western man refuse
to speak to his own brother.'" ("The Movies," Simon
and Schuster, 1957)
Robert E. Sherwood . . .
"'The Covered Wagon' was a great picture, not so much
because it was based upon a magnificent theme as because it was
produced with genuine skill. Jesse L. Lasky, Vice-President of
the Paramount Company, was one of the first to recognize its potentialities,
and he backed it to the limit. He assigned it to James Cruze,
a director who had been advancing rapidly in popular esteem, and
he entrusted the adaptation of the story to Jack Cunningham. Both
men stuck closely to the point. They refrained from trimming Hough's
story with any movie hokum, having sense enough to appreciate
the essential simplicity of the drama.
"The outstanding quality of 'The Covered Wagon' as it
appeared in its final form was its absolute honesty. There was
nothing false in it, nothing that was insincere, or trumped up,
or phony. James Cruze obtained his effects by legitimate methods,
without recourse to the mechanical tricks which have spoiled so
many potentially good pictures in the past. In Jack Cunningham's
adaptation of the story, the same spirit of straightforwardness
prevailed. He had the wisdom to realize that he must set forth
the details as simply and directly as possible; he shunned spurious
hokum in his drama, his sentiment
and his humor, and relied instead on the intense vigor of reality.
"The most stalwart and picturesque figure in the cast
was Ernest Torrence, a lean Scotsman who quitted musical comedy
three years ago to play the villain in 'Tol'able David'
"The hero of the piece was J. Warren Kerrigan, a star
who dates back to the earliest days of Western melodramas in the
movies. . . In 'The Covered Wagon' he displayed his great horsemanship
to good advantage, but his performance was not in harmony with
the picture as a whole. In fact, he was the one figure in the
entire picture who suggested that, after all, it was only a movie
- and not an actual record of the real conquest of the West."
("The Best Moving Pictures of 1922-1923," Small, Maynard
and Company, 1923)
from MOTION PICTURE CLASSIC, September, 1925 . . .
"Of pictures released in the past two years, 'The Covered
Wagon,' 'Robin Hood,' 'The Iron Horse,' 'The Ten Commandments,'
'The Thief of Bagdad,' are the only ones that will earn incomes
of mammoth proportions.
"'The Covered Wagon' was the film which brought to the
screen an era of epics. The idea of making the film version of
this Emerson Hough story an 'epic' of the pioneer steelers of
our Western Empire, instead of merely a film dealing with the
lives of some fictitious characters, made about $2,000,000 difference
in the business that the production will do.
"'The Covered Wagon' called for an outlay of $350,000
in the making and has already brought in $2,000,000. Before it
is finished, the James Cruze production should gross $4,000,000."